Cupcake Season

April 19, 2010

Is upon us at last…

Here is one reason why I love NPR: they did a special on why the supermarkets have been flooded with strawberries the past couple weeks: apparently the Florida crop was late so it is overlapping with the California crop, hence strawberries literally falling over themselves to be eaten.

( http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125845773)

I have single handedly been putting away about a pint of berries a day– so easy to eat, so fresh, so affordable, so yum!

In any case, after a long winter hiatus of travel, working at my day job, freelancing, house guests, and the like, I feel as though I’m coming out of a fog and into a glorious spring, with baking and cooking  projects luring me back into the kitchen.

I made a batch of these lovely sunny cakes last weekend for my lovely neighbor E.L. who ordered them for a dinner party. The cakes are a light vanilla sourcream (ridiculously easy to make, no butter involved but you make up for that in the frosting), filled with strawberry preserves, swathed in delectable swiss meringue frosting  and topped with fresh strawberries.

Bliss.

(ps. Can’t share this recipe, its a company secret– tthpppttt– but apparently I now have a Facebook account for Brownstone Baking.  If I can just figure out how to actually use it…)

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Fondant

February 7, 2010

Well, this is a quick note on fondant’s and cakes and kids birthday parties. I had a rather intense order last weekend for a series of cakes for a 1 year old birthday party. The project was to have four cakes roughly 6″ x 6″ x 6″ decorated to look like building blocks, each topped with an adorable fondant figure. The enterprise was ambitious given my very full week but turned out rather well, all things told. My friend H did all the fondant rolling and making– he’s a wizard is all I’ll say– each of these figures is made so that their heads turn. I’m not sure what I think about fondant: it rolls beautifully but its not very tasty.


The bear is definitely my favourite. We decorated the sides of the cakes with bubble gum balls, chocolate graham crackers, tractor gummies and goldfish. For the flavourings,  I made a chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling, a vanilla cake with lemon creme filling, an espresso cake with cappuccino creme filling and my favourite, a vanilla cake with chocolate apricot swirls and an apricot jam filling. Each cake was about four layers tall and frosted with swiss meringue buttercream. (These pictures were taken in the garage at the home where we delivered the cakes– we did last minute touch ups after the harrowing ride from Brooklyn to New Jersey. )


Overall a success, but my goodness, quite a project!

Chocolate Curls

November 26, 2009

Don’t ask me where I have been the past month. I have been here in Brooklyn and I have been cooking and baking a lot but I have not been posting. I have been busy at my day job making architecture, and prepping for my licensing exams, and helping plan flowers for a wedding, and volunteering at church, and seeing old friends,  and yes, filling the odd cake and cupcake orders. But not blogging.

So accept this bit of eye candy as a peace offering.

My best friend Carmen was visiting for two weeks earlier this month and we had a lovely time eating and gallivanting around the city and filling cake orders. I made a chocolate stout cake for a 50th birthday party that turned out quite well.

The cake is a wonderful recipe that involves cocoa, melted chocolate, Guiness stout, and very strong coffee. It has a full bodied, almost yeasty flavour, and gets oh so much better the day after it has been baked. I layered in a rich bittersweet chocolate ganache (essentially butter, chocolate, and heavy cream melted scrumptiously together).

I then did the crumb coat in chocolate ganache before I spread on the chocolate swiss meringue buttercream, which is a glorious creamy invention that I am one hundred percent in love with. And it forgives all flaws of the cake and in this case, of the decorator.

Decorating ended up being a bit of debacle– I tried a variety of decorating ideas including drizzled chocolate glaze and piped white buttercream dots, none of which came to anything. Thankfully I’d made a double batch of the chocolate buttercream so mistakes were quickly rectified. We settled on a simple design with gauzy ribbon and chocolate curls, which I discovered were extremely easy to make. I had to borrow my neighbour’s microwave to soften the chocolate but what a lifesaver it was.

The final result was quite satisfactory.

p.s. All photos were taken by Carmen with her smashing new camera. Brilliant, yes?

Pear and Pecan Bread

October 10, 2009

Here is my dilemma: I cook an awful lot and I take scads of pictures, but I don’t post them on the blog. Its a lack of discipline or time on my part. So my computer is fast filling up with folder upon folder of delectable food photos, but only one out of every five recipes gets posted. What to do…

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Regardless, here is a quick and delicious dessert (or breakfast item) that I have become quite addicted to the past couple years. Its from the Joy of Cooking, my all time favourite cookbook. I’ve often said that if I had to leave my home suddenly and had the choice of only one cookbook to take along, this would be the one. It has EVERYTHING.
Pear bread is in the lovely family of loaf cakes, like banana bread, that whip together quickly since they use oil as shortening and often include some sort of mashed or grated fruit and chopped nuts.

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They are ideal for the fall when fruit and vegetables are abundant and a fragrant slice of cake is all you need to compliment a steaming hot cup of tea or coffee. The juicy pears in this recipe are set off by the lemon zest and juice, pleasant surprises in every mouthful. And of course the bread tastes even better the next day.

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Pear and Pecan Bread (from the Joy of Cooking, p 775)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5 inch pan.
Whisk together:
1 1/2 c flour
1 c sugar (I usually cut back to about 2/3 or 3/4 c sugar)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a separate large bowl, whisk together:
1 large egg
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grate lemon zest
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 c grated ripe pears with juice (no need to peel)

Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and fold just till about 3/4 of dry ingredients are moistened. Add:
1 c coarsely chopped pecans.
Fold just till dry ingredients are moistened.
Scrape batter into pan, spread evenly, and bake in center of oven 1 hr and 15 min till toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Let cool in pan 10 minutes then unmold onto a rack and let cool completely.

Of milk and sponges

August 31, 2009

This is a very British sort of recipe.
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I memorized this recipe early on when I was a teenager, growing up in Jos. It was not uncommon for me to show up at the home of a family friend and be greeted with the words: “ah Ruth, we have flour and eggs. Please make us a cake!” A girl learns to have a quick crowd pleaser tucked under her sleeve. I have made this cake under dire circumstances, in Nigeria with no electricity, a dodgy gas stove, armed only with a wooden spoon, powdered milk and a tin of margarine. The results have still been wonderful.
The whole cake takes about 10 minutes to prepare, and is delicious served with tea, or as a light desert after a heavy meal (paired with some fresh berries and cream you can’t beat it).  The recipe has very little oil or shortening and is thus exceeding light and fluffy. It travels well for dinner parties too. I sometimes substitute lemon and lemon peel for vanilla. I served this recently, filled with a bit of apricot preserves that I had sitting in the back of the fridge.

Hot Milk Sponge Cake
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 scant cup sugar
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350.
Whisk together flour and baking powder. Beat eggs with electric mixer for 2 minutes till thick and lemon coloured. Slowly add in the sugar and beat another 3-4 minutes. Add dry ingredients and beat just till combined. Meanwhile heat milk in pan till hot, add butter and heat till melted. Do not allow to boil. Add hot milk butter mixture and vanilla. Beat till smooth.
Pour into wax or parchment lined, or just buttered and floured 9” cake pan. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until golden brown and toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Cool on a rack—invert onto a platter. If desired, split cake in half horizontally and spread a thin layer of your favourite jam onto the lower half. Replace the top half and gently sift powdered sugar over the top of the cake.

chocolate mousse cupcake

August 23, 2009

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The more I bake cupcakes, the more I discover that sour cream is the wonder ingredient that gives moistness and creaminess to these little desserts. I grew up on oil cakes—back home in Nigeria we didn’t eat much butter and certainly my mother would not have indulged us with real butter for baking. Bright yellow, slightly slimy Blue Band margarine was the standard baking fat in our household, and so the light, creaminess of butter cakes was wholly lost on me until I arrived in the States. Back home we instead made oil cakes—lovely pans of golden chiffon which we would cut into squares and serve with steaming hot yellow custard for company dinners. Does anyone remember Bird’s Custard? It came in the blue and red tin and you could whip it up in a matter of minutes on the stove.  I had a craving for custard a few months ago and bought a tin of Bird’s at the West African Grocery store near Port Authority. I made myself a bowlful of custard but I must say, it wasn’t the glorious treat I’d remembered it to be, largely because I realized the primary ingredients in it are corn starch and Sunset Yellow C1 15985. I’ll make a butter cake to go with it next time.

What I have recently discovered with all this cupcake baking is that many recipes call for sour cream in their batter and it really is a wonderful addition, producing cakes that are rich but not overly heavy, better to receive luxurious quantities of delectable frosting.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

August 12, 2009

This particular pie recipe always makes me think of some dear colleagues who I used to work with at my former architecture office. For about a year a few of us developed a tradition of having pie and ice cream on Friday afternoons (or anytime the mood hit us, for that matter). It became somewhat of an addiction. Now we are all scattered around the country… I don’t think any of us still work at the office, but I can’t make or eat strawberry rhubarb pie without thinking fondly of these lovely people. (Yes, Second Floor, you know who you are!)

pie adjusted

Early in the summer I bought several long stalks of rhubarb at the farmers market which I cut up and froze in anticipation of strawberry season. August in my view is pie season— tucked into flaky buttery pastry, fresh summer fruit barely needs sugar, just a long spell in a hot oven. Last weekend I made a strawberry rhubarb pie to take to a dinner party. Strawberry rhubarb pie is probably the only time that I indulge in making a lattice top pie—it can’t be helped, the bubbling juicy filling simply must be exposed.

pie pre lattice
I’d spent the whole morning taking my niece to have her hair braided (she is a handful!) and I was a bit tired when I started making the crust. The lattice making took longer than usual—it is essentially braiding or basket weaving isn’t it, and I kept forgetting which piece needed to go on top of the other, but it turned out alright.

pie with lattice

In my distracted state I also put the oven on 475 instead of 425 for the first half hour of the baking so the crust was rather more brown than anticipated. But the pie tasted fine, served with ice cream from, a local ice cream shop in Park Slope. And following on the heels of a delectable meal of Vittesh and Amrita’s coconut goat curry, masala roasted potatoes and lime carrot salad, it was the perfect way to end a delightful evening.

pie pretty

p.s. Thank goodness L was also on hand to take this gorgeous photo.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
Crust:
2 heaping cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks of cold butter cut into small pieces
1/3 cup plus 3or 4 tablespoons ice water
Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add in the cold butter pieces and work into the flour (quickly) with your fingers until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. You’ll have bits of butter throughout, don’t worry about working them in. Work quickly so the butter doesn’t melt or the pastry become greasy. Add in 1/3 cup of ice water and toss with a fork. Mixture should start to clump together, add in the 3 to 4 tablespoons of ice water just until you can form a ball. Divide dough in half—roll out one round and fit into a 9” pan leaving a 1 inch overhang. Refrigerate the pan and the second ball of dough until you are ready for the filling.
Preheat oven to 425.

Filling:
2 ½ cups fresh strawberries hulled and sliced in half
3 cups rhubarb chopped into ½ inch pieces (if frozen, use straight from the freezer)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Mix all the filling ingredients together and let stand 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
Roll out the second ball of dough into a rectangle. Cut ½ inch strips of dough lengthwise.
Pour the filling into pie crust and dot with 2 tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces. Brush edges of bottom crust with cold water and make the lattice top. (A bit tricky to explain, but see the picture I suppose.) Fold over the overhang of bottom crust and crimp edges with fingers. Brush top of crust with cream or milk and sprinkle a tsp of sugar over the top.
Bake pie in 425 oven for half an hour. Slide a pan in under the shelf below and reduce heat to 350. Bake another 30 minutes until juice bubble over and crust is brown. Remove and cool on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature—pie is best eaten on the same or next day with vanilla ice cream.

Peach and Mango Cobbler

July 26, 2009

I made a yummy favourite this week (can’t believe its taken me so long to write about it!). I have made this peach cobbler for a variety of occasions– one involved a house-warming-baby-welcoming supper I made for friends a couple years ago  where this dessert finished off a meal of chicken stewed with prunes and capers. We ate the cobbler piping hot and bubbling out of the oven topped with melting vanilla ice cream. Another fond memory of this dish was when I made it for a group of friends in China. I couldn’t find the regular yellow western style peaches in the super market  so we used a crunchy white peach and it turned out equally delicious, with a nice clean bite.

In those instances I followed the original peach cobbler recipe and used sugar. Last Monday I made it to celebrate the birthday of  a dear friend who cannot eat refined sugar.

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To jazz things up a bit, I added in fresh sliced mango and substituted honey for the sugar in both the topping and the filling. A sprinkle of cardamom before it went into the oven helped round out the flavours.

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The original recipe is from Epicurious.com (Gourmet 1999) but here is my adapted version:

Mango Peach Cobbler

6 medium peaches cut into thin slices

1 large ripe mango (remove seed and cut into thin slices)

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon corn starch

For biscuit topping

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/8 – 1/4  cup boiling water

1/2 tsp ground cardamom for sprinkling

Cook peaches:
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss peaches, mangos, lemon juice, and cornstarch in a bowl. Add the honey and toss gently to coat fruit. Butter a 2-qt. nonreactive baking dish and pour the fruit into the dish. Bake in middle of oven 10 minutes.

Make topping while peaches bake:
Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips  until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in honey (batter will look like a sticky mess.) Stir in enough hot water until  combined but go gently so that it doesn’t get to liquidy.

Remove peaches from oven and drop spoonfuls of topping over them.  Sprinkle the 1/2 tsp ground cardamom over the topping. Bake in middle of oven until topping is golden, about 25 minutes. (Topping will spread as it bakes.)

Serve warm or room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Serves about 6-8 people unless you are inhaling large plate fulls of it.